Osteoarthritis

Self-help for osteoarthritis

As well as medical treatments for osteoarthritis, there are a number of ways that you can ease the symptoms of your condition yourself. Your healthcare professional can also give you advice about changes that you can make to your lifestyle in order to manage your osteoarthritis at home.

In some cases, this may be all you need to do to keep your symptoms of osteoarthritis under control.

Exercise

If your osteoarthritis causes you pain and stiffness, you may not think that exercise is for you. However, exercise really helps you and can relieve pain. Not only will regular exercise keep you active and mobile, it will help to build up your muscles, which in turn strengthens your joints. Exercise is also good for relieving stress, losing weight, and improving your posture, all of which will ease your symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Your healthcare professional should discuss the benefits of regular exercise with you, and will be able to provide you with an exercise plan to follow at home. It is very important that you follow this plan carefully, because the wrong sort of exercise, or carrying out exercises incorrectly, may cause further damage to your joints.

Your exercise plan is likely to include exercises which improve your flexibility, strength, and fitness.

Flexibility exercises focus on your range of movement and involve gently stretching your joints to make them more supple. Strengthening exercises will improve your muscle strength and tone. However, the type of exercises that will be recommended for you will depend on which of your joints are affected by osteoarthritis. Exercises to improve your fitness will raise your heart rate, and improve your stamina, and may include cycling, walking, or swimming.

Weight loss

Being overweight makes your osteoarthritis worse because the extra weight puts even more strain on your joints, particularly those in your lower limbs that bear your weight.

If you are overweight you should try to lose weight by exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. However, see your healthcare professional before starting a new exercise programme or making any changes to your diet. They will be able to devise an exercise plan that is suitable for you, and give you advice about how to lose weight slowly and safely.

Complementary therapies

There are many complementary therapies that are available for easing the symptoms of osteoarthritis, although there is little or no medical evidence to say that they are effective.

Therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and massage are some of the other commonly used complementary therapies for osteoarthritis. Some people may find that they help, although they can be expensive and time-consuming.

If you have osteoarthritis and you decide to use a form of complementary therapy to treat your condition, make sure that your therapist is fully qualified and an accredited member of the appropriate organisation - for example, the British Acupuncture Council.

Supplements

A number of supplements are available for treating osteoarthritis. Two of the most common supplements for osteoarthritis are chondroitin and glucosamine.

However, there is very little medical evidence to back up the effectiveness of supplements, such as chondroitin and glucosamine. These supplements can also be expensive. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) does not recommend the use of chondroitin because it has been found to be ineffective.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is available in two different preparations - glucosamine hydrochloride, which is licensed, and glucosamine sulphate, which is unlicensed.

Although there is little medical evidence to back up the effectiveness of glucosamine hydrochloride, recent research has shown that taking glucosamine sulphate (which is found in healthy cartilage) or fish oils may have positive results. However, the NHS cannot recommend or prescribe the use of glucosamine sulphate because it does not often prove to cost-effective.

If you want to buy glucosamine sulphate for yourself, it is best to take the 1500mg tablet that is taken once a day, as the 500mg tablets (taken three times a day) seems to be ineffective. However, you should not take glucosamine if you are allergic to shellfish.

Glucosamine sulphate is available from health food shops. However, it is important to remember that it may not be effective for everyone, and you may only get a mild improvement in your pain. You should evaluate the severity of your pain before you start taking glucosamine sulphate, so that you can tell whether or not there is a noticeable improvement.

It is best to take glucosamine sulphate for a trial period at first. If you have not noticed an improvement in your pain or stiffness within three months of taking glucosamine sulphate, it is not likely to be effective for you.

Rubefacients

Rubefacients are available as gels and creams that produce a warm, reddening effect on your skin when you rub them in. There are several rubefacients which can be used to treat joint pain that is caused by osteoarthritis.

However, research has shown that rubefacients have little or no effect in treating osteoarthritis. For this reason they are not recommended for use.

Last updated: 27 June 2013

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